Of all the Colorado 14ers, hiking Handies Peak is the easiest adventure of them all. However, this comes with a few asterisks. First, you need a 4WD car capable of creek crossings (high clearance) to make it to the upper trailhead. Otherwise add 2 miles 300 feet of elevation gain. The American Basin is famous for its summer wildflower blooms – that alone makes it worth the long drive to the San Juans for this classic climb. Here’s a good place to start your research below in my Handies Peak Route Guide.
Hiking Handies Peak: Fast Facts
CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!
You are responsible for your personal safety in the backcountry.
These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
Hiking Handies Peak - Southwest Slopes Route
Before hiking Handies Peak, take time to thoroughly review the route description, map, and photos, and research current conditions and weather forecasts for the day of your hike. There are also sections with Leave No Trace and safety tips, directions to reach the trailhead, a gear list for packing, and additional FAQs, resources, images, and information about the peak. Safe travels on the trails!
If you don’t have a 4WD car or don’t feel comfortable driving through the creek crossing 1 mile from the trailhead, park in one nearby area. You can start hiking Handies Peak here up the 1-mile road to the trailhead. Take the well-maintained trail up and around a large ridge that lies in front of you.
Once around the ridge, you’ll see the far end of the Basin. Cross a small creek and then hike around an outcrop. During the summer months, you’ll find some great wildflower views in this part of the trail.
You’ll find yourself at the bottom of a slope with a series of switchbacks heading up. Follow the path and take care not to cut switchbacks. At the top, take a sharp left.
Head across a steep talus slope at the end of the basin. You’ll find a solid trail here to use – no scrambling required. Take a right once back on grassy slopes to meet the ridge leading to the Handies summit.
From the ridge, follow the trail towards the summit. Here are several switchbacks to weave around rocks – stay on the trail.
The summit lies just a few hundred feet ahead! Follow the sandy trail to the top and enjoy your accomplishment. Ensure you begin to descend early enough to ensure you’re back to the trailhead before afternoon thunderstorms become a problem.
It’s important to bring a good topographical map and compass with you while hiking Handies Peak. I recommend downloading this map on your phone or other electronic device, and also printing out a copy to bring with you as a backup in case anything happens to your phone along the hike.
Take the time to research weather conditions before you attempt hiking Haandies Peak. Below is a good source to get weather information for Handies Peak and other fourteeners.
The right gear will make your hike up Handies Peak much easier! This route includes steep grades, loose gravel, and a lot of opportunities to stub your toe. Leave your flip-flops at home and get a solid pair of hiking boots for hiking Handies Peak. Be sure you break them in at home before your trip, or you’ll have plenty of blisters before you know it. Here are my hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Camping near Handies Peak:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking Handies Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Handies Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Lake City, Ouray, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Handies Peak
Handies Peak is a pristine mountain in the San Juan mountains, but the number of visitors is gradually increasing. Please help protect his area while hiking Handies Peak by observing the following Leave No Trace practices:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck hiking the Decalibron Loop! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Hiking a 14er like Handies Peak can be very dangerous if you do not prepare. Here are some safety tips for your hike:
- Research your route: Choose an appropriate route based on your skill level, fitness, and the current conditions. Obtain trail maps and read up on trail descriptions, elevation gains, and potential hazards.
- Check the weather: Weather conditions in the mountains can change rapidly, so check the forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes.
- Start early: Aim to begin your hike at or before sunrise to avoid being caught out in the afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in the mountains.
- Dress in layers: Wear moisture-wicking clothing and pack extra layers, including a waterproof jacket and pants, to adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Hydrate and eat well: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to stay hydrated and maintain energy levels during your hike.
- Acclimate to altitude: Spend time at higher elevations in the days leading up to your hike to help your body adjust to the thinner air and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
- Know the signs of altitude sickness: Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, descend to a lower altitude and rest.
- Pace yourself: Hiking at high altitudes can be challenging, so take your time, listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to take breaks.
- Stay on the trail: Following established trails helps protect the environment and reduces the chance of getting lost.
- Carry the Ten Essentials: Bring navigation tools, sun protection, extra clothing, a headlamp, first aid supplies, a knife or multi-tool, a firestarter, shelter, extra food, and extra water.
- Hike with a buddy: Whenever possible, hike with a partner or a group for added safety and support.
- Know your limits: Be honest about your fitness level and experience, and turn back if you’re feeling unwell or conditions become unsafe.
- Leave No Trace: Practice responsible hiking by packing out all trash, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails.
- Share your plans: Inform someone of your intended route and expected return time, and check in with them once you’ve safely completed your hike.
The origin behind the name ‘Handies Peak’ is shrouded in history. One prominent theory is that it is named after a prominent local miner in the Lake City, Colorado region who was influential during the initial Silver rush era.
The peak is one of Colorado’s most isolated fourteeners – you cannot see a road or town anywhere in the view from the summit! The American Basin is a great place for wildflower and wildlife viewing as well while you work your way up to the peak.
The road to reach the trailhead is very tough, including multiple stream crossings along the way. I recommend a good 4WD vehicle with high clearance to reach this isolated trailhead in the San Juans. Safe tavels hiking Handies Peak!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
To hike Handies Peak, follow these steps to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience:
Plan ahead: Research the trail and choose the route that suits your skill level. The Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek route is the most common and easiest option.
Check the weather: Before your hike, monitor the weather forecast and be prepared for rapidly changing conditions in the mountains. Avoid hiking during thunderstorms or extreme weather.
Start early: Aim to begin your hike early in the morning, ideally before sunrise, to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and to have enough daylight for your hike.
Gear up: Bring appropriate clothing, footwear, and gear for a high-altitude hike. Dress in layers, wear sturdy hiking boots, and pack essentials like sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and rain gear.
Hydrate and fuel: Carry plenty of water (at least 2 liters per person) and high-energy snacks to keep yourself fueled throughout the hike.
Acclimatize: If you’re not accustomed to high altitudes, spend a day or two at a lower elevation to acclimate your body and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
Know your limits: Hike at a comfortable pace and listen to your body. Take breaks as needed and be willing to turn back if you’re not feeling well or if the weather deteriorates.
Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, staying on designated trails, and minimizing your impact on the environment.
Safety first: Inform someone about your hiking plans, including your planned route and expected return time. Carry a map, compass, and a fully charged phone or communication device like a satellite messenger.
Enjoy the hike: Take your time to appreciate the stunning views, capture photos, and experience the beauty of Handies Peak and the surrounding San Juan Mountains.
Remember that hiking a 14er is a challenging endeavor, so always prioritize safety and be prepared for varying conditions.
A: The alternative route to Handies Peak is the American Basin route. This route is shorter and steeper compared to the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek route, but it is still considered a Class 2 hike. The American Basin route offers stunning wildflower displays during the summer months and a picturesque alpine basin. Hikers should be prepared for some steep sections, loose rocks, and the need for occasional handholds for balance. However, no technical climbing or mountaineering skills are required for this route either.